During Elaine Kadakia’s 83 years, she’s marched in Springfield for women’s rights, rallied to raise awareness about violence against women and raised two daughters of her own.
Now, Kadakia, of Huntley, makes ceramic art illustrating the struggle for equality she’s witnessed women endure over the years. Some of her favorite pieces are on display at McHenry County College in an exhibit called “A Journey in Ceramic Activist Art,” which runs through Monday.
“Each piece represents a certain time in my life,” Kadakia said.
The exhibit, which includes about 20 pieces, is the first for Kadakia, who today lives with her husband in Del Webb’s Sun City community in Huntley. But it’s been a lifetime in the making.
In the 1960s, Kadakia graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.
She grew up in Chicago and is Jewish and married to Jayant Kadakia, her husband of the past 54 years, who is from Mumbai, India, and practices Hindu. The marriage prompted more than 15 trips to India to visit her husband’s family.
These trips, Kadakia said, also exposed her to how women are treated in some parts of the world. The visits showed her the beautiful colors of the Indian culture and the saris women wear that are seen in her ceramics pieces. All of these elements have inspired her ceramics collection.
She has lived her life raising two daughters and advocating for women’s rights with her voice and through her art.
Kadakia has been an active member of the American Association of University Women, which values and promotes women’s equality in the workplace, reproductive rights and the advancement of women in leadership roles, she said.
She marched with her two young daughters at the Equal Rights Amendment rally in 1976 in Springfield, where her husband worked for the state of Illinois and where they raised their family before moving to the McHenry County area in 2001.
She also has taken part in recent efforts in McHenry County promoting women’s rights, including the recent women’s reproductive rights march in Woodstock.
Her younger daughter, Maya Kadakia, recalls when she was a child growing up in Springfield, her mother created pointillism art at the kitchen table and taught art classes in a Jewish temple and in a nursing home. She also recalls marching in the ERA rallies and a Take Back the Night demonstration rallying against violence against women when she was in middle school.
“She is instrumental in making me become the feminist that I am today,” her daughter said. “She was always incredibly supportive of me being independent, doing what I want to do, of wearing what I want to wear and of being a fully fledged human being.”
Maya Kadakia, who today is an artist and teaches humanities to middle school students and traditional Guinean dance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said her mother made her feel important in this world, even as a young girl. She not only marched with her mother for the protection of women, but designed the T-shirts worn during the march depicting silhouettes of women dancing under a night sky.
She said she is “grateful” to her mother.
“It’s just really powerful to be taken seriously at such a young age and to be in a community of diverse women all working toward the same goal,” she said. “I’m really grateful to my mom for being such a proponent of that.”
Of her mother’s artwork, Maya Kadakia said she is inspired by “how she lets her spirit shine through.”
At a young age, Elaine Kadakia said she realized art could “send powerful and meaningful messages.”
In describing Elaine Kadakia’s approach to her ceramic’s projects, her instructor Tom Vician said, “She is fearless.”
“She pushes the boundaries of clay,” Vician said. “Her artwork is always idea based. Everything she creates comes from an idea she has first, and then she creates the work.”
And that “idea” for Kadakia is women, women’s rights, their oppression and passion.
“She is a risk taker, and she is not afraid to take risks when starting new projects. She just goes for it, she doesn’t hold back,” said Vician, who teaches traditional forming techniques in his class, such as wheel-throwing and hand-building, as well as newer techniques such as, 3D printing, soda-firing and glaze formulation.
Vician said Kadakia is skilled in the traditional 5,000-year-old techniques of wheel-throwing and hand-building. But she also works with the newer techniques. She also is not afraid to mix techniques, as seen in her pieces “Women Emerging, 2020″ and “We Paved the Way to Women’s Right to Vote,” depicting Susan B. Anthony and other women important in the women’s suffrage movement.
“I always try to deliver something new and interesting every semester, and she is always willing to explore a new technique,” Vician said.
Of her first-ever show, Vician said, “Elaine is just absorbing all of this. She is on cloud nine, and it is wonderful to see.”
Vician is exploring opportunities to share Kadakia’s showcase at other universities and community colleges.
Kadakia’s exhibit is in the Art Space room, A-144, near parking lot B, across from the gymnasium. Information about the art classes offered at McHenry County College is available at www.mchenry.edu/art/.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct what Maya Kadakia does for a living. She teaches humanities to middle school students and traditional Guinean dance at the University of Wisconsin.